The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger

 

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Four films in one which now stand as a memorial to the late John Berger.

  

Seasons in Quincy, The

John Berger and Tilda Swinton

  

The writer John Berger who died earlier this year at the age of ninety was an intellectual, a thinker who expressed himself in non-fiction books, in poetry and in novels (in 1972 he won the Booker Prize for G). The description applied to him in this film is that of a radical humanist. It was made in 2015 in his home at Quincy in Haute-Savoie and it is a work that will inevitably mean different things to those who admire the man and his work already and to those seeking an introduction to it. The chosen format is unusual: four short films lasting some twenty to twenty five minutes each but seemingly conceived as a single project even though they all come as distinct pieces complete with their own credits.

 

What has resulted has value as a final opportunity to see and hear John Berger in person, but the unorthodox approach makes it something of a ragbag. Its title may point to the four-part construction and to its time structure too. Nevertheless, if the location, well photographed, make its mark in the segments devoted to winter, spring and harvest-time, the third sequence (A Song for Politics), largely a discussion on globalisation, capitalism and the world today shot indoors in black and white, makes the setting almost irrelevant. 

 

Berger himself, is seen with Tilda Swinton, a close friend, in the first rather self-conscious piece, Ways of Listening, and is also one of the participants in the discussion. Yet he is hardly present in the second film, Spring, which may be due to his wife's sudden death around that time (the main subject matter here is animals and Berger's interest in them), while in the last section, Harvest (directed by Swinton herself), he yields pride of place to his son, Yves, who talks to Swinton's teenage children.

 

In addition to the direct talk, you get quotes and readings from Berger's work and brief extracts from past pieces which captured him on film. However, a more conventionally informative approach would better suit many viewers even if this is competently handled by its various directors and finds Simon Fisher Turner providing a music score which is particularly of note in the segment directed by Swinton. Indeed, she, born on the same day as Berger, 5 November, and aware of a strong affinity with him despite the age difference, is a central mover in this piece which is clearly heartfelt. Even so, I myself found more satisfaction in another recent documentary in which she played a major part, namely Letters from Baghdad. However, this film does end with an unexpected and entertaining epilogue inserted into the end credits, one which reveals Berger as a man happy to give practical instruction in the art of riding a motorbike. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  John Berger, Tilda Swinton.

Dir Colin MacCabe (for Ways of Listening and as co-director of A Song for Politics), Christopher Roth (for Spring), Bartek Dziadosz (as co-director of A Song for Politics) and Tilda Swinton (for Harvest), Pro Lily Ford and Colin MacCabe, Screenplay Tilda Swinton (Ways of Listening) and Christopher Roth (Spring), Ph Filipa C├ęsar (Ways of Listening), Christopher Roth and Bartek Dziadosz (Spring) and Bartek Dziadosz (A Song for Politics and Harvest), Ed Christopher Roth and Bartek Dziadosz (the latter for Harvest), Music Simon Fisher Turner.

 

The Derek Jarman Lab and the University of Pittsburgh-Curzon Artificial Eye.
93 mins. UK/USA. 2015. Rel: 23 June 2017 Cert. 12A.